By Tony Meale
There was a time when fantasy players would use their first two draft picks – if not their first three or four draft picks – on running backs. That’s right. Fantasy players would actually draft bench running backs before starting quarterbacks and wide receivers.
Times have changed. Mostly.
As running backs have become devalued over the last five to eight years, it hasn’t been uncommon for fantasy owners in the first two or three rounds to ignore tailbacks – most of whom are in timeshares – and instead opt for the likes of Aaron Rodgers and Calvin Johnson, sure-thing talents at other positions.
This year, look for 2013 to be more like 2003. While depth of quality running backs is arguably as great as it’s been in nearly a decade, once the top 12 or so tailbacks are gone, it gets really ugly, really fast. You don’t necessarily have to draft running backs with each of your first two picks, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea.
1) Adrian Peterson, Vikings
Peterson should be the No. 1 pick in your draft. It’s that simple. He won the rushing title last season by nearly 500 yards and accounted for 2,300+ total yards and 13 touchdowns. Yes, it’d be borderline crazy to expect last year’s output in 2013, but it’d also be borderline foolish to expect anything less than 1,500+ total yards and 10+ touchdowns. That’s a career year for most guys; for AP, it’s the floor. Peterson at No. 1 is as no-brainer as it comes.
2) Arian Foster, Texans
I find it mildly disconcerting that Foster’s yards per carry (4.9, 4.4, 4.1), receptions (66, 53, 40) and yardage totals (2,220; 1,841; 1,641) have fallen each of the last three years. That said, the guy’s a touchdown machine. He’s led the league in rushing touchdowns in two of the last three years and has 47 total scores during that span. Don’t over-think it. Draft Foster high, and draft Foster with confidence.
3) Ray Rice, Ravens
Rice had a down year in 2012 – and yet, he still finished with 1,600+ total yards and 10 touchdowns. With Anquan Boldin in San Francisco and Dennis Pitta out for the year, what do you think the Ravens are going to do? Answer: Give the ball to Rice, whose 61 receptions last year were, amazingly, his lowest since 2008. Don’t be surprised if he accounts for 2,000+ yards for the third time in five years.
4) Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks
Lynch averaged a career-high 5.0 yards per carry last year and has scored 12+ touchdowns in each of the last two seasons. With Percy Harvin to undergo hip surgery, look for the Seahawks to showcase a steady diet of Lynch.
5) Doug Martin, Buccaneers
He’s basically a younger version of Ray Rice. As a rookie, Martin had 1,926 total yards, 12 touchdowns and one fumble. Yeah, I’ll take that.
6) Jamaal Charles, Chiefs
Kansas City finished 2-14 last year, and yet Charles managed to account for 1,745 yards and six touchdowns – this after tearing his ACL the previous season. Throw in new head coach Andy Reid and the West Coast offense, and Charles is primed for a monster 2013, especially in PPR leagues.
7) C.J. Spiller, Bills
Spiller was one of three players – the others were Peterson and Robert Griffin III – to average at least 6.0 yards per carry last season. Fred Jackson may pilfer goal-line carries, but Spiller should be a lock for 15-20 touches per game.
8) Trent Richardson, Browns
Richardson’s tough running style means he’s an injury liability, but every tailback in football is one carry away from the IR. The Alabama product averaged 21.2 touches per game last season, totaling 1,300+ yards and 12 touchdowns. He also finished with 51 receptions. At just 22, Richardson should be a workhorse back for years to come.
9) Alfred Morris, Redskins
Morris’ rookie season taught us three things: 1) he doesn’t catch a lot of passes (11), 2) he does rush for a lot of yards (1,613) and 3) he does score a lot of touchdowns (13). The sixth-round pick out of Florida Atlantic is especially valuable in non-PPR leagues, especially if Mike Shanahan once again gives Morris 300+ touches.
10) LeSean McCoy, Eagles
For all intents and purposes, McCoy was a disappointment in 2012. He was limited to 12 games and scored just five touchdowns. Then again, he also accounted for 1,200+ yards and had 54 receptions. Extrapolate those numbers to a full season, and we’re talking 1,600+ yards, 70+ catches and probably seven or eight touchdowns. Chip Kelly’s offense is a bit of a wild card, but The Eagles hope to play up-tempo and get the ball to playmakers in space. McCoy won’t so much as sniff the 20 touchdowns he scored in 2011, but there’s still great value here.
11) Matt Forte, Bears
There are two main reasons to dislike Forte: He hasn’t played a full season since 2010, and Michael Bush is going to get a lot of goal-line carries. Fair enough. But here’s what you should like: Forte has never – that’s right, never – finished a season with fewer than 1,400 yards. He’s also averaged 53.4 catches per year. Yes, he’ll probably only score seven or eight touchdowns this season, but the damage he does between the 20s makes him a must-play week in, week out.
12) Steven Jackson, Falcons
Here’s why you shouldn’t draft Steven Jackson: He turned 30 this summer. (Yup, that’s about it). Here’s why you should draft him: He’s rushed for at least 1,000 yards in eight straight seasons, he’s recorded 300+ receiving yards in seven of those seasons and he just left a bad team (St. Louis) for a good one (Atlanta). Even better, the Falcons actually move the chains and actually run the ball in the red zone. In his last three seasons in St. Louis, Jackson had 43 carries inside the 10-yard line. Michael Turner, by comparison, had more than 100 for Atlanta. There are a lot of reasons to love Jackson this year, and if he’s your RB2, you’ll be sitting pretty at tailback all season.
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